When it comes to ethical fashion it can be really hard to know where to start. There are so many issues to consider, from the welfare and fair wages of the people who make your clothes, to the carbon footprint of the fashion supply chain, to the texttile waste in landfills.
These are issues that our favorite fashion brands aren’t always transparent about either, which just adds to the complexity of trying to make the right choice without sacrificing style or affordability.
The mainstream fashion industry is all about fast moving trends – it quickly becomes a race to create more garments in less time, while using less money to keep costs down. If you’re only going to wear a dress for one season it doesn’t matter if it’s poorly made and won’t last long, and as a consumer, you don’t want to pay too much for it. Once that season is over and the trends have changed, the dress will probably end up in landfill, as part of the 350,000 tonnes of used clothing we throw away each year (and that’s just in the UK!)
To keep costs down, mainstream brands often depend on unsustainable resources and often exploitative production – from children picking cotton to underpaid women working in dangerous factory conditions.
In contrast, ethical fashion is all about promoting sustainable sourcing and quality production by workers who are paid a fair wage. There are many overlapping terms used to describe ethical fashion such as slow fashion, sustainable, eco-friendly, organic, fair trade etc.
Every time we spend money we show our support for a certain brand or company. Unethical fashion brands won’t stop their unfair or unsustainable practices until consumers put enough pressure on them to do so. The way to do this by choosing to spend your money on ethical fashion.
Two common misconceptions about the ethical fashion industry is that it is not stylish and/or it is too expensive. In reality, although it may take a bit more time to find the right look, there are a huge number of sustainable fashion manufactures guaranteeing that you can find something stylish (like these bags, these clothes for the guys, and these shoes). Ethical fashion may also appear more expensive at first, but since the focus is on quality production, the garments last longer and save you money in the long run.
On average we only wear about a third of the clothes in our closet, and yet we are constantly buying new ones. The key to ethical fashion is not only to buy less, but also buy smarter. We can support recycling or swapping clothes to reduce the amount of textile waste we generate, but we also need to learn how to shop smarter. That means not buying poorly-made, on trend garments that will go out of fashion in a matter of weeks.
If you’re struggling to know where to start, consider the basics first. Leggings, socks, undies, vest tops – the parts of your wardrobe that you wear on a daily basis and combine with lots of different outfits. If you do your research and find an eco-friendly source for the basics, then you can work your way up to the statement pieces and finishing touches.
Clothing is an investment in our personal style. Ethically made garments might cost more upfront, but the cost-per-wear is typically much lower because they are better quality. Choosing ethical fashion means we don’t just feel good in what we wear, but also about how it was made.
About the Author
Sian is a love of travel, fashion and all things ethical. She is one of the founders of Little Lotus Boutique, supporting artisans and championing handmade, ethical garments from across the globe. She lives and blogs in the UK but rarely sits still and can often be found with a backpack on exploring a different corner of the world!